The importance of adequate protein in your diet
My blog today is going to be about how making a simple change to your diet can make a significant difference in your quality of life, by increasing your energy, balancing your mood, decreasing your cravings, and improving your sleep. This is something I touch on with a lot of my patients but I don’t always have the time in the visit to discuss it in depth. So today, I am going to!
We are going to talk about protein!
Protein is a macronutrient (which means it provides the body with energy, and calories, which it requires for growth and repair and to sustain life). The other two macronutrients are fat and carbohydrates. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle, organs, bones, skin, enzymes and so much more.
Although most people get the basic amounts of protein needed, most people are not optimizing the level of protein they should be eating, and are not eating it in proper amounts throughout the day. Unlike fat and carbs, your body cannot store protein, so it does not have a reserve to draw from when it requires a new supply. Therefore, it is important to keep feeding your body protein throughout the day in moderate amounts. In this email I will talk about the benefits of protein, and how to eat it throughout the day.
So what are the benefits of optimizing protein intake in your diet at appropriate times?
- Increased energy and more sustained energy levels. This means no more energy crashes and sleepy afternoons, and improved mental focus and concentration! Because it takes the body longer to break down and digest protein (so you also feel fuller for longer), it keeps your blood sugar levels more stable. This means….
- Decreased sugar and carb cravings through out the day and especially at night! Once your blood sugar drops, it will cycle all day and you will crave high sugar foods to bump your blood sugar back up again. But then you crash again! And the cycle continues. Eating adequate protein will cause a slow rise of blood sugar, and if you keep eating moderate amounts of protein all day then your will maintain your blood sugar levels. This means your insulin levels will decrease….which means….
- Weight loss and loss of belly fat! and….
- Decreased risk of Hypertension, High Cholesterol and Diabetes, as well as Alzheimers.
- Healthy skin, hair and nails. Any patient that comes in with hair loss or thinning hair is always assessed for protein intake.
- Better sleep, because your blood sugar levels aren’t fluctuating throughout the night so you can sleep deeper and wake more rested.
- Stronger immune system.
- Better mood….because you are not “Hangry”! Fluctuations in blood sugar are also linked to anxiety and irritability.
- Maintenance of muscle mass through aging. And building increased muscle mass if you are actively lifting weights and trying to build muscle. Who doesn’t want a strong body?
- Increased metabolism….for several reasons. For one, there is a thermic effect of eating protein, which means that it takes energy to digest and break down protein, so you are actually burning calories to digest protein! Second, eating adequate protein means more muscle mass, which requires more calories to maintain, so you are actually burning more calories at rest. Eating more protein also stops your body from breaking down muscle vs fat when you are trying to lose weight.
- Protein activates body signals that curb your appetite and help you feel full more quickly so you can eat a smaller volume in your meal. This contributes to weight loss.
So how do you ensure you are eating protein properly in your diet? I always say you should make sure you eat a protein containing breakfast (with preferable low carbs) within 30 to 60 minutes of waking, and then every 3 to 4 hours after that. Anytime you eat anything, even a snack, there should be some protein with that snack. Try to avoid eating carbs alone, as this will cycle blood sugar levels and cause more cravings.
What foods are high in protein?
Meat (chicken, fish, turkey preferably, or lean beef vs. high fat cuts of meat…and your meat should be baked or grilled rather than fried), eggs, nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, etc), dairy, protein powders, protein bars (not the best option as they tend to be high in sugar). Less optimal options (because they also contain carbs) are high protein grains like quinoa and oatmeal, and beans. Also your protein sources will be dependent on your food sensitivity results….some patients can’t eat dairy, or eggs, or almonds, etc.
Ideas for a high protein breakfast would include:
- eggs (scrambled, omelette etc) with avocado and spinach
- greek yogurt with berries and nuts
- protein shake
- protein pancakes
- homemade granola with coconut/almond/cashew milk
I would aim for 15 to 20 grams of protein at your breakfast. I would minimize the carbs at this meal (one piece of toast vs two, or some fruit), but ensure there is some healthy fat in this meal (nuts and seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, etc). The combination of protein and fat to start your day will give you tons of nutrients and energy to propel you through your day.
Ideas for high protein snacks include:
- trail mix
- no bake energy bites (stay posted for an email with recipes!)
- hummus and veggies
- an apple with peanut butter
- chia seed pudding
- protein shake or a protein bar
With all this buzz about protein, it is important to be aware of some risks of protein in your diet. I don’t eat meat at every meal, and if I eat it twice a day I will keep my portions smaller. I do have days where I don’t eat meat every day because I go through periods where I feel that it is heavy to digest so I listen to my body and give it a break, and go for vegetarian protein options (beans, protein shakes, etc).
Also, because meat is acidic, you always want to balance your meals with lots of fresh fruits and veggies, which have an alkaline effect to balance your pH levels.
People with Kidney failure or declining kidney function should not eat high levels of protein, as this can damage the kidneys further.
I am not advocating a high protein and low carb diet, but rather a diet with some protein with every meal (a portion of meat the size of your palm, beans, quinoa, etc)and every snack (10-12 almonds, 1 tbsp peanut butter, etc), to balance the carbs and fats. Ideally your plate would be one quarter protein. There is controversy about the amount of protein in grams people should eat. Some sources say 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight (I think this may be a bit low), some sources say 1 to 1.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight, while some sources say 25 to 30% of your caloric intake should come from protein. People that are highly active with more intense levels of exercise, that have healthy kidneys and that are trying to build lean muscle would require more protein than someone who is more sedentary, who needs less calories daily overall. People with any kind of kidney problems would be on a protein restricted diet according to their doctor. The grams of protein per day must be determined on an individual level and based on each individuals goals, while taking into consideration the health of their kidneys, other health conditions, cholesterol levels (to determine what type of protein is healthy for you) etc. I am unsure about the safety of high protein diets long term, so I say moderation. Moderate amounts of protein in every meal and snack, and we monitor your blood work for kidney function, cholesterol, iron levels, etc.
What would be bad is eating a slab of meat three times a day! You want to balance lean meat sources in portion sizes appropriate for your weight, sex, overall health, with vegetarian sources of protein such as nuts, beans, etc as described above.
I hope this email helps you! If you have any questions or you aren’t sure what’s right for you, don’t hesitate to ask me at your next visit with me and we can discuss what is right for you personally.
Naturopathic Vitality Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic
205-5403 Crowchild Trail, Calgary, AB
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